New School Grocery: Tech, Trends and Talent

Bananas at a grocery store

Retail Leadership Symposium (Consumer Science 250)
By Students Kelsey Pulera,Winnie Nyakaru, Emily O’Neill, Sul Hee Park, Robin Peeters, Lili Peich, Amanda Percarpio, Demitra Philosophos, Cassandra Piette, Rachel Piltser, Vladimir Predko, Maheen Quraishi

The Retail Leadership Symposium class welcomed speakers from four companies in the grocery business to share their insights and expertise on subjects from tech innovation to employment opportunities on February 22, 2017. Dave Kotwitz (Executive Director of the Wisconsin Grocers Association), Mark Birmingham (Executive Director of New Business Development, Sendik’s), Amanda Metcalfe (Director of Employee Development, Metcalfe’s Market), Don Symonds (Director of Events and Trade Relations, Lipari Foods), and Kristie Maurer (Store Director, Fresh Madison Market) describe the grocery industry as complex, fast-paced and at the forefront of innovation in retail.

Instagram FoodFoodies: The New Fashionistas
Scroll through the Instagram account of the platform’s most popular and influential people. Chances are, you’ll see just as many platefuls of food and arrangements of fresh ingredients as fashion-related posts. The market is changing, and that means that grocers are looking for new ways to approach the century-old practice and adapt to a new audience. With “old school” grocery long gone, the grocery industry is uncharted territory ⎼ a gold mine for go-getters, outside-the-box thinkers and entrepreneurial minds.

The Science of Food Forecasting
We asked the panelists to tell us how they prepare for changes in demand as food trends dominate grocery lists in the era of the foodie. Amanda Metcalfe, Director of Employee Development at Metcalfe’s, explained that social media and the blogosphere have served the local chain well in recent years. Metcalfe’s has navigated the world of “food forecasting” by working with social media influencers and bloggers. This communication allows Metcalfe’s to gain a better understanding of what is trending among consumers and how the grocer can adjust to the shift demand. Similarly, Fresh Market’s leadership looks to trade publications to make predictions about future trends. Kristie Maurer, Store Director at Fresh Madison Market, said that these publications provide a deeper look at what consumers are expecting from grocers as demographics and interests change. Some grocers have even taken it upon themselves to do a little food recon of their own and travel to cities with prominent food scenes. These culinary destinations offer firsthand experience to grocers looking to be the trendsetters at home.Grocery

Reducing the Foo[d]print
One of the most prominent trends of the last decade is the move toward earth-friendly operations. Don Symonds, Director of Events and Trade Relations at Lipari Foods, told us about technological innovation in Lipari’s storage and shipping facilities. The facilities’ machines are computer-programmed to pack food items into trucks so that the minimum amount of space is left empty. This strategy is a money-saver for Lipari, but it’s also great for the environment. More efficient packing and shipping means fewer trucks in transit and fewers items going to waste due to damage or expiration. Expired food is money lost, and nobody wants to watch their product lose value. At Metcalfe’s, the Zero Waste Initiative is a visible effort as items near expiration receive a sticker to indicate discounted prices. The grocer also participates in a food donation program with Second Harvest Food Bank.

Wisconsin Grocers & UW-Madison

L to R: Nancy Murray (Retailing & Consumer Behavior), Mark Birmingham (Sendik’s), Amanda Metcalfe (Metcalfe’s), Danielle Croegaert (Kohl’s Center for Retailing), Don Symonds (Lipari Foods), Kristie Maurer (Madison Fresh Market), Dave Kotwitz (Wisconsin Grocers Association)

Bright Minds for a Bright Future
The overarching theme of the discussion was that the grocery industry is not what it used to be. While grocers are on a level playing field, they must choose a specialization that sets them apart from those selling the same exact products. For Mark Birmingham, Executive Director of New Business Development at Sendik’s, this means enhancing the customer experience with unbeatable service. “You can’t be the cheapest and offer the best customer service,” Birmingham said. Sendik’s places priority on giving its employees the tools they need to succeed in their work. The grocer’s leadership development program offers an opportunity for employees to grow within the company and to gain an understanding of their skills and goals. This initiative is partially in response to what Birmingham called the “war for talent.” Companies want the best and brightest on their team to help them compete in the fast-paced, competitive market that is grocery.

 

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